The Bizarre Fear of Female Toys

My son loves Paw Patrol. Heck, I love Paw Patrol. I love the theme song. I love the characters. I love reading into every episode in a way that is probably unhealthy (it's a Canadian show and they seem to face off against an eagle on a regular basis...).

But for as great as the show is, it falls into the same trap as every other cartoon/toy line: a baffling refusal to embrace female characters.

The main Paw Patrol team consists of Chase, Marshall, Rubble, Rocky, Zuma, and Skye, all led by the human, Ryder. Each member of the team is associated with a type of vehicle or job, and each has their own color from the rainbow. For those who don't know:

Chase wears blue and he's the police dog.
Marshall wears red and he's the firefighter/EMT dog.
Rubble wears yellow and he's the construction pup.
Rocky wears green and drives a recycling truck.
Zuma wears orange and has a hovercraft, the only water vehicle.
Skye wears pink and flies a helicopter.

Oh, and they all have catch phrases, some of which rhyme.

If you look at that list, you can probably guess the gender of each of those dogs. Only one of them is female and, of course, she has to wear pink. I suppose the fact that she's not the baking dog is something.

This bothered me when we first started watching the show, but they eventually introduced a new pup, Everest, who, as you might imagine, is the mountain climbing dog. Oh, and Everest is, in fact, a girl. Her color is kind of purple to round out the ROY G BIV of it all.

But Everest isn't part of the main team, so she only shows up periodically. Still, at least the writers were aware of the fact that only having one girl was a problem.

It was apparently a different kind of problem for the people who make Paw Patrol merchandise.

Their problem was having icky girl (or two) in the mix.

We got my son underwear for Christmas because we're in the potty training phase. His underwear features every character of the Paw Patrol...except for Skye (and Everest, for that matter). One pair has a head shot of every pup but Skye, but features a paw print where another picture would/could be. So it's not even a matter of math.

Nicole actually bought our son a bottle that featured the Paw Patrol. He saw it in a store and wanted it. It's pink. It has Skye and Everest on it. That kind of leads me to believe that the addition of Everest was just so they could branch out into making products for girls as well as boys, when the reality is that it shouldn't matter.

I pointed out the gender bias in Paw Patrol to the mother of one of Sam's friends and she was not happy about it, although she had never noticed. And I think that's telling. I think that a lot of people don't notice, particularly when it comes to toys for toddlers.

Sure, people were rightfully up in arms when there was no Rey action figure after The Force Awakenings was released, but a big reason for that is that adults were buying the toys, and adults were certainly watching the movie. To some extent, we don't really expect such behavior from the people who produce shows for young children.

My son also loves Blaze and the Monster Machines, which features exactly one female truck, whose die cast figure is the hardest to find and, because of this, is also the most expensive. She is also featured in the fewest adventures, which is all the more sad given that the show is focused on STEM, a field that women are regularly barred from.

My son also loves Cars. The average person would probably have a hard time even naming one of the female cars in either of those movies. The third movies, at least, seems to promise a new, prominent female character.

It's funny: the one time a debate about pink toys and my son came up, it was my wife who was hesitant. He received a gift of a toy that he already had, but the one he had was pink. My wife wondered if we should keep the new one (which wasn't pink) and get rid of the old one. They were identical in every other way. We kept the pink one.

But it's so ingrained in all of us, even those delightful Canadians who produce Paw Patrol.

For International Women's Day this year, my son and I both wore red.

Maybe that's how it gets better.

Rewatching Buffy: Season Seven

The seventh season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t as bad as the sixth, but in some ways it’s more painful. It’s more painful because it starts off strong, then falls apart completely. It’s more painful because this is it: this is the last season of Buffy that we will ever get, and it doesn’t live up to what’s come before.

The season premiere is probably the most metafictional episode in the show’s history, and with good reason. Joss Whedon addresses the problems of Season Six head on, practically speaking directly to the audience. The “magic is like drugs” bit is dismissed in one line. Dawn suddenly starts acting like a teenager and not a child. Xander and Buffy fall into the type of familial routine that makes perfect sense (but without romantic entanglements). And the ending does a fantastic job of tying together the previous six seasons by promising us big things for the final year.

Side note: When the episode originally aired, people questioned the “Big Bads” that the First Evil impersonated at the end. The issue was that Drusilla was one of them, when most people consider Angel to have been the “Big Bad” of Season Two. But Drusilla is the motivator behind everything that happens in Season Two, even being indirectly responsible for Buffy and Angel getting all groiny with each other, so I think it works.

The first seven episodes of Season Seven (maybe that’s a sign?) are, by and large, quite good. The “Selfless,” “Him,” “Conversations with Dead People” trifecta is a great run, and showcases all the best qualities of the show. “Selfless” delves into Anya’s past in a way we’ve never seen before, and walks a fine line between comedy and drama. On paper, “Him” should be horrible, but it’s so well executed that it’s one of the funniest episodes in the history of the show. “Conversations with Dead People” is intense from start to finish and raises the stakes for the entire season.

Honestly, after “Conversations with Dead People,” I felt like the show had returned to greatness, and this, its final season, could end up being its best ever.

But then it all went to hell.

The show became entangled in a quest to become something it’s not.

The potentials storyline is not, in and of itself, bad. If anything, it takes Buffy’s story to its logical conclusion. It’s taking the fact that she is something of a new generation feminist icon in the real world and making that literal in the fictional one. She is empowering women with actual super powers. Sure, it’s a little on the nose, but it fits with the show’s framework. The problem is that the introduction of a “Slayer army” becomes a logistical nightmare.

An army needs an enemy, and The First’s assassin priest guys (“Harbingers”) are perfectly fine. They’re introduced from the very start of the season and they do a decent job of carrying out The First’s wishes. But they’re not lethal enough to be a real challenge to Buffy, so in come the Turok-Han, or “uber-vamps,” as the gang calls them. Giles claims that the Turok-Han are what Neanderthals are to humans, which, sadly, makes no sense. The vampires of this world take on the physical form of whoever they possess. They don’t evolve. It would make more sense if the Turok-Han were the physical forms of the vampires in the other dimension, the bodies they leave behind when someone is bitten.

But that’s actually a minor quibble, all things considered. The real problem is that it takes everything Buffy has to defeat a single Turok-Han, and that’s after she has her ass handed to her the first time around. Why is that a problem? Because, in the series finale, the Slayer army is able to take on an army of Turok-Han that outnumber them by at least ten to one. Based upon what just one Turok-Han could do, the Slayer army should have lasted all of about ten seconds.

Whedon himself addresses the issue in the commentary for the finale, saying he thought the story trumped the continuity problem. He’s wrong. Yes, there are plenty of examples of story trumping continuity errors, but this one was so painfully obvious that it made the entire finale battle seem ridiculous. Given that this is a world of magic and mystical weapons, how hard would it have been to incorporate a spell of some kind that either de-powered the Turok-Han or amplified the new Slayers? After all, they’d already introduced the axe, which was something of a deus ex machina on its own.

Worse than the Turok-Han, however, was Caleb the Evil Priest. Because if you’re going to create a bad guy to go up against a strong female, it should be someone in religious garb. And, hey, if he’s religious, he should totally be from the South, too, because those religious types from the South just hate women. I like Nathan Fillion as much as the next guy, but this was an unfortunate role for him.

Bad villains don’t necessarily mean a bad season, though. The problem is that from about Episode Eight on, the show is more or less only about the coming war with The First. It drags on endlessly, to the point where it seems like every episode features Buffy giving a painful speech to the Potentials. The mystery of whether Giles is the First or not isn’t remotely suspenseful, as the answer is obvious from the start. In fact, it’s also dragged on so long that it makes no sense; days (on the show) go by without it being addressed, and there’s simply no way he would have gone that long without touching a single thing. Also: Dawn speaks Sumerian. I don’t know.

Perhaps most infuriating is the return of a problem they had towards the end of Season Five. Yes, I realize that Buffy is the main character. I realize that she has a wealth of experience that she can share with the Potentials. That’s great. She should totally train them. But when it comes down to planning a war — a war that involves dealing with multiple supernatural elements with deep roots to the past — she is not the best qualified.

That would be Giles. And I know that a lot of people would have freaked out about the older man leading the army of young girls, but that’s the situation we were dealt. Buffy is still the field general, Willow is still the key to the plan, but Giles should have been the guy who organized it all. Instead, we get the group divided up into pairs that featured Giles teaming up with principal/vampire hunter Robin Wood, and de-powered, untrained Anya teaming up with non-powered, meek Andrew — because those teams make sense.

That’s not to say that the last 2/3 of the season were all bad. The return of Andrew is nice. Bringing back Faith is good. Some of the Potentials had, well, potential. Dawn is substantially less annoying than last season. I don’t hate Kennedy the way that most of the Buffy fandom hated Kennedy. It was good to see Angel.

I don’t know. It was a disappointing way to end the show. But I won’t lie: I still got choked up. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has meant an awful lot to me over the years. I’m still friends with people I met because of this show. I’m still writing about it a decade later. I’m still re-watching it.

Maybe that’s enough.

Rewatching Buffy: Season Six

The criticism that Season Six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is bad bothers me. Oh, not because it isn’t bad – it’s god awful. No, it bothers me because people seem to think it was bad because it was “dark.” But heavy storylines can work perfectly well – there’s nothing inherently bad about serious stories. No, it was bad because it had all the nuance and subtly of a drunk frat boy. It is the worst season of the show, if for no other reason than it was the one time that, while watching it, I nearly changed the channel (and no, it wasn’t during “Doublemeat Palace”).

In fact, the initial “dark” story is actually a really good one. Buffy died and went to heaven, but her friends brought her back. That is such a wonderful idea and one which could easily have taken an entire season to dissect. How would you feel if you were ripped out of heaven? How were her friends supposed to know that’s where she was? It’s a great story idea that is, sadly, boiled down to Buffy acting out in an effort “to feel something.”

Which begs the obvious question: why would she not feel anything? Why would coming back from heaven have made her numb? Wouldn’t it have been the opposite? Wouldn’t the harshness of the mortal coil actually have been too much for her? If anything, she’d be overly sensitive to a world in which bad things happen and people regularly feel horrible. It would be too much for her to take. This idea that she can no longer feel makes no sense, and it quickly becomes clear that it’s just a device to get her together with Spike.

Because, really, there had to be something to get past the fact that Buffy being with Spike is unbelievably stupid. It was still stupid, of course, but the writers could at least point to a reason.

And speaking of Spike, his big quest to get his soul back yet again tramples all over the mythology the show was so determined to establish. Spike is a completely different person than William, an evil person, and not someone who would attempt to kill himself so William can reclaim his body. None of it makes any sense but, you know, they had to find a way to keep Spike on the show and they were running out of ideas.

Giles has clearly been photoshopped into this picture.

Giles has clearly been photoshopped into this picture.

Unfortunately, Buffy and Spike don’t get the worst of the horror that is Season Six. That special hell is reserved for Willow. That special hell hits its peak in the single worst episode of Buffy, “Wrecked.”

I realize that people like to point to “Doublemeat Palace” as the epitome of bad Buffy, and I don’t deny that it’s awful, with its horrible story and purely-for-shock-value sex scene. But it didn’t insult my intelligence. It offended my eyes a bit, but it didn’t treat me like I was stupid.

The same can’t be said for “Wrecked,” which is an entire episode premised on the horrible metaphor that magic = drugs. Got it? Because Marti Noxon (who is credited as the writer of this episode) is going to bludgeon you over the head with it as much as humanly possible, because either she thinks the audience is stupid or she is just that bad of a writer (while there is evidence to the latter; she also wrote the wonderful “I Only Have Eyes for You” from Season Two).

Even though we’ve already seen Willow out partying with fellow witch Amy and using copious amounts of magic, apparently that’s not enough for us to catch on. So we’re introduced to Rack, who is basically a magic dealer. He operates out of a rundown home, complete with junkies hanging around, hoping for their next fix. He loves Willow, of course, because she smells like strawberries. Make of that what you will.

At this point, the metaphor has already been abused to the point where, upon my original viewing, I was bleeding from my ears. And then Willow agrees to take Dawn to the movies, but she’s not feeling herself, so she wants to get right first. Dawn hangs out at the crack house, waiting for Willow to come out. I wonder if McNulty knows about this place.

Willow comes out and Dawn has a hissy fit (as Dawn does more or less all season long) and, because you’re stupid, the point of all this gets bulldozed home when Willow drives under the influence. They get into an accident, of course, and Dawn is hurt and Buffy gets all mad and Willow hits rock bottom, but not really.

Wait, I’m confused, magic is like what now?

Even though he leaves for a ridiculous reason, I’m kind of glad Giles went back to England, or who knows what would have become of him?

Xander and Anya break up for no real reason. One of the more nuanced sub-plots of the show – that of Xander’s abusive family – is turned into a ridiculous spectacle, completely destroying it. And even though Xander saves the world from evil Willow at the end of the season, he would have been better off going to England with Giles. I’m sure they could have found a reason equal to “I can’t feel anything,” “magic is drugs,” or “you won’t grow up with me around.”

Was there anything positive to take out of this season? Well, the Trio were okay for a little while. But, again, the complete lack of subtly during the season hurt them. There could have been really interesting things to say about nerd culture and misogyny, but it got buried under a cave-in of heavy handedness.

The musical episode was fantastic, of course. I loved the hell out of it. Was it worth watching the show I loved deteriorate? Would the reality introduced in the wonderful “Normal, Again” be the better one? It’s a toss-up.

Stand-out episodes: “Once More with Feeling,” “Normal Again”

Rewatching Buffy: Season Five

Season five of Buffy is my second favorite, behind the third season.  It's more consistent than seasons two or four, but the overall story arc (and the main villain) pale in comparison to season three.

Dawn Finally Arrives/Origins of the Slayer

This is probably an unpopular opinion, but I liked the addition of Dawn to the cast.  Giving Buffy a sister changed the dynamic of the show in a positive way.  In some ways, it could have been seen as desperate, as the show spent all of season four floundering around, looking for a direction.  And perhaps that's why this season works for me -- from the first episode, it's about something.  There's a level of cohesion across all 22 episodes that we hadn't seen since season three, and season five actually does it better.

The cohesion comes from Buffy digging into the origins of the Slayer, something that was hinted at in the season four finale.  This show has always worked best when it embraced its mythology, but it often seemed to shy away from that, perhaps as a way to gain new viewers.  But staying on the surface is why season four (and season six) were so hard to enjoy.  The drama was manufactured, which was all the more frustrating when avenues for organic drama were available.

Dawn was sent to Buffy because she's the Slayer (side bar: technically speaking, she should have been sent to Faith, but I guess the monks did their research before assigning the Key to a protector).  It has nothing to do with who Buffy is, it has to do with her lineage.  In one, simple move, they've expanded Buffy's role beyond the city limits of Sunnydale.  She has a larger part to play in the world, and this season goes along way towards making that clear.  High school is over Buffy; it's time to grow-up.

Thanks to a shockingly well written premiere featuring Dracula, Buffy becomes motivated to find out what she is even before Dawn is introduced.  And with Buffy's new found enthusiasm for being a Slayer comes new found motivation for Giles, who spent all of last season as something of a hanger-on.

Speaking of hanger-ons, this season actually manages to accomplish the nigh impossible task of making Spike relevant and, better yet, making his continued existence seem less unbearably stupid.  Giles can provide Buffy with all the information in the world, but what she needs are details from someone who actually lived it.  Spike telling Buffy about the two Slayers he's killed was some of the best stuff of the season.

Granted, that also forces us to ignore the fact that Spike, who has killed two Slayers, should have been dusted by now, but we do what we can.

The Scooby Gang

The introduction of the idea that Spike is in love with Buffy actually works initially because it's a response to his inability to kill her.  He's obsessed, and since he can no longer express that obsession through violence, it twists into a perverted love.  It's nicely done and almost makes up for the last season of Spike, but it's sadly soon flipped into another mind numbing story line that is, thankfully for season five, fleshed out the most in season six.

Willow arguably receives the least screen time of the Scooby Gang, which is fine, as they are able to focus on her relationship with Tara and her dynamic with Xander and Anya more.  Willow coming out in season four was enough of a change that just dealing with that over the course of season five was enough.  They did a nice job of slowly showing her increasing power, too, without resorting to the stupidity coming next season.

Tara and Anya both get nice spotlights.  Both stories are rooted in the characters' pasts and both make good use of their connections within the Scooby Gang.  While Tara's episode was more emotional, Anya's ends up working better, if only because it captures the group dynamic better.

Xander finally gets the episode that we've been waiting for since he was introduced.  Honestly, Xander peaks in season five, which was great at the time, but unravels in the next season.  While he was adrift at sea all of last season, he comes into his own in season five, and suddenly he seems like the most stable member of the group.

Riley is all but largely destroyed in season five.  His story makes up much of what went wrong during this season.  He could have been an interesting addition to the group, particularly when placed at odds with Xander, but he was entirely defined by Buffy, and he wasn't going to survive like that.

In the End...

Despite all the positives, the cracks definitely begin to show during season five.  Perhaps because of the meandering nature of season four, the writers spend a lot of time placing the focus on Buffy even when it's unnatural.  Like it or not, there are times when Giles is more qualified to make decisions than Buffy.  It's not meant to be a slight against her, it's just that he's smarter and more experienced.  Giles is also willing to make hard choices that Buffy just won't.  This creeps up again in season seven.  I appreciate that Buffy's the titular character, but so was Angel on his show, and they were able to push him aside when it made sense.

As much as I loved the musical and a handful of episodes from season seven (like the premiere, "Him," and "Conversations with Dead People") it's hard not to feel like Buffy would have been better served by ending with season five.  Sure, we'd need an extra episode to wrap things up, but given how powerful the season five finale is, and how mediocre (at best) the final two seasons were, you have to wonder if they should have gone out on top.

Stand out episodes: The Body (top 5), the Gift (top 5), The Replacement, Fool For Love, Checkpoint

Rewatching Buffy: Season Four

It was the best of episodes, it was the worst of episodes.  It was Buffy: season four.

What can you say about a season that includes both Hush and Beer Bad?  That includes Restless and Where the Wild Things Are?

I have this theory that the writing staff on Buffy did not have typical childhoods.  My theory holds that they didn't have the same college experiences that most of us did, nor did they have the same twentysomething experiences that most of us had (it's easy to see in Whedon himself, as his background is fairly unique).  This made it very hard for them to tell "college" stories and, later, "twentysomething" stories.  This explains why season four is so hit and miss and why season six is so bad.

All that said, even the worst season can be saved by a qualified overarching storyline.  Season two is constantly referred to as being great, when the reality is that it's only great because of the main plot.  This, of course, is of no help to season four, as the big storyline is horrible on almost every level.

There's a common complaint that Buffy failed when the characters graduated, that the show was unable to expand beyond it's central metaphor of high school as hell.  I disagree.  I love season five.  I think the show's failure comes when it tries to expand beyond its borders.  The show is at its best when it's telling small stories.  The characters are the key.  No one is tuning into Buffy for the fight scenes -- no one.  They're tuning in to see what's going on with their favorite characters.

Season four attempted to expand the mythology, but did so without using a character as the focal point.  Yes, an argument can be made that Riley was that focal point, but Riley was a brand new character that no one ever had the chance to get to like.  Expanding the world by incorporating the Initiative and then making the only access character someone brand new to the show was a bad idea on almost every level.

Notice how the expanded mythology worked in season two -- because it all came through Angel, a character we knew.  To a certain extent, the same could be said for Faith in season three and, appropriately, Buffy in season five.

On the big character arc front, there's not much to write home about.  Obviously, the big one is Oz leaving and Willow dating Tara, but even by the end of the season that relationship is still too new to really appreciate.  It's easy to forget how groundbreaking it was when it originally aired, though, which makes it a pretty big deal.

Giles finally gets a girlfriend, or at least a friend with benefits and, hey, look, there's a non-white character on the show! Whedon often gets criticized for having a vanilla cast (as Mr. Trick says in season 3, "...strictly the Caucasian persuasion in the 'Dale.") which is underscored by an expanding cast that stays white. As the new additions are ultimately added as romantic interests, I have to wonder if the show ran into a road block with the network regarding interracial relationships.

The biggest development for the show is the evolution of the relationship between Xander and Anya and the eventual addition of Anya as a core cast member.  She's a fantastic character who is unique among the Scooby Gang.  It's something they never manage to achieve with Riley and something that takes more than a season to achieve with Tara.

And speaking of characters finding their role on the show, we come to perhaps the biggest problem: Spike.

Spike initially helping the group doesn't bother me.  After all, they appear to have a mutual enemy.  Given that, it doesn't seem strange that they'd keep him alive, let alone take care of him.  They need information.

But as soon as Buffy discovers that Riley is a part of the Initiative, Spike should be dust.  There's no reason for him to be kept alive.  At one point, he becomes suicidal and Willow intervenes.  Now, I appreciate that Willow is a kind, gentle soul, but let's think about all of the things Spike has done since he was introduced in season two, let alone the things he did before he came to Sunnydale.

It's absolutely insane that Spike is left alive.  Once you start forcing a show to change for the sake of a single character, you're in trouble.  It's less problematic in season five, but becomes intolerable again in season six.

I would love to say that season four worked as a metaphor for the transition some of us make the year after we graduate from high school, but it simply wasn't good enough.  There was transition there, for sure, but it came in the form of the writers not really having any idea what the show was about anymore.  They knew the characters well enough to write some funny bits, but they spent most of the season desperately searching for drama, and when they couldn't find it, they manufactured it in a way that was untrue to the show.

Still, by the end of the season they'd found their footing.  They managed to bring the gang back together while strengthening them.  The finale did an excellent job of setting up the fifth season, laying the groundwork that they so desperately needed for season four.

Rewatching Buffy: Season Three

As I mentioned in my review of season two, the bar was raised for this show heading into season three.  The question, then, is did the show manage to meet its new, lofty standard?

Well, yes, yes it did.

I wouldn't go so far as to say every single episode of this season is great, but none of them are horrible.  Sure, "Amends" is as melodramatic and heavy handed as anything we'd seen on Buffy up to that point, and every character during "Beauty and the Beasts" is willfully ignorant, but none of the episodes come close to the standard of badness that we saw in the first two seasons.  I would imagine this had to do with the solidifying of the writing team on the show -- every writer has at least 2 episodes over the course of this season.

Season three benefited from the addition of 3 notable characters (yes, 3): Faith, the Mayor, and Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.  Yeah, you probably think that third one is overstating, but I'll get to that in a minute.

Let's start with the Mayor, who is easily the best Big Bad the show ever sees.  He's the only Big Bad who gets set up the season before.  He's also payoff for the high school years, which could be perhaps more accurately described as the Sunnydale Years (later seasons may take place in Sunnydale, but they're not tied to the town the way the first 3 seasons are).  The Mayor represents an organic expansion of the show, one which is much smoother than further attempts in season 4.

And, let's face it, the Mayor is just flat out hilarious.  He's a wonderful change of pace from the melodrama of the Master and Drusilla (yes, I'm naming her the season two Big Bad, something that we'll get to again way down the line in season seven).  He's also the only legitimately funny Big Bad we'll see over the course of the show, not to mention the only Big Bad with a well thought out, long term plan.

The introduction of Faith adds so many layers to the show.  Aside from being a complicated character, Faith impacts every person.  They dynamic between her and Angel pays off over and over again when she shows up on his show.  She's also the most overt example of the "other" that becomes a running theme throughout Buffy.  Each character ends up with multiple versions of his or her self over the course of the show, from Xander literally being split it two, to Willow losing control, to Ethan Rayne and Wesley being reflections of a Giles that might have been.  It's a nice way to explore what makes the original character tick.

And, hey, Faith also kicks up the energy level of the show.  While Buffy wallows in any number of new depressions, Faith is constantly up.  She fulfills a hole on the show by embracing her supernatural role and luxuriating in it.  She's the manic half to Buffy's depressant.

This leaves us with Wesley.  How, you might be wondering, can I possibly consider Wesley a notable addition to the cast?  He doesn't do much but get in the way and act officious (and somewhat lecherous).

But Wesley is added to the show to replace Giles, who has been fired, and this is a brilliant move.  Basically, they have made Giles a member of the Scooby Gang.  He's no longer the establishment -- he's a rebel, just like the rest of them.  Firing Giles and bringing in what he was supposed to be like does a nice job of showing us just how different Giles is from the rest of the Watchers and, when push comes to shove, which side he'll choose.  Giles may be old enough to be their father, but firing him closes the gap between him and the others.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't point out how nice it was to have a season of Buffy where her mom knows she's the Slayer.  The secret identity business got tiresome in season two, and Joyce gets to show off some depth as she becomes involved in her daughter's life.

While there's room for debate about the quality of the show as a whole once it left the high school setting, there can't be any doubt that sending Angel (and Cordelia) off on their own was an excellent decision.  Angel was never going to grow as a character if he stayed on Buffy, and Cordelia's involvement with the group had become questionable at best.

All and all, in was a nice send off for the high school years, and the revamped core cast (minus Angel and Cordelia, plus Oz) made for plenty of potential for the next season.

Stand out episodes: Band Candy, Lovers Walk, The Zeppo, Dopplegangland, Earshot, and Graduation Day, both parts.

Rewatching Buffy: Season Two

I made a comment on Facebook the other day that people who say the best season of Buffy is season two must have stopped watching after season two.  Because, hey, it's much, much better than season one, but it's still being weighed down by a bunch of just horrible episodes.

Season two is known for its finale, and rightfully so.  Becoming parts 1 and 2 take the show to a new level.  It's scary the jump that the show makes for that two part finale.  It's as if, 32 episodes in, Joss Whedon and the writers realized the potential of Buffy.  It's is unquestionably a stunning change and worthy of all the praise that is heaped upon it.

But there were 20 episodes before it.

This season made the unfortunate mistake of doubling down on bad episodes.  Yes, a stinker here and there was understandable at this still relatively early stage, but during season two they seemed to come in pairs.  "Inca Mummy Girl" and "Reptile Boy" in back to back weeks is brutal.  "Ted" and "Bad Eggs" in back to back weeks is even worse.  I don't think I'd watched some of these episodes more than once before now, which is saying a lot.

The cast really starts to gel in this season.  Each character develops over the course of the season, although the continuation of Xander's infatuation with Buffy is pretty painful, particularly with regards to Angel.  The addition of Oz is great, both because of who he is and how he's introduced.  They do a really nice job of slowly working him into the show.

The actors really started coming into their own during season 2.

The actors really started coming into their own during season 2.

One of my favorite things about season two is the expansion on Giles' history.  We get a few glimpses into the life of the guy formerly know as Ripper and they add all sorts of depth to the character.  Giles' past also plays nicely off of the rest of the gang, particularly Buffy, who has been working under the assumption that Giles is a stuffy old man.  Giles clearly understands her better than she realizes.

The most glaring flaw in this season, aside from the horrible episodes scattered here and there, is the utter failure that is the curse on Angel.

I'm not against the idea of Angel having a curse on him, but the specifics of it are painfully stupid and completely at odds with ideas the show has gone to great lengths to explain.

From the very first episode, we're told that the vampire and the person whose body they've stolen are two very different people.  Once someone is turned, they're gone.  The curse on Angel actually underscores this, as the spell has to pull Angel's soul back from the ether to put it back into his body.

So Angel and Angelus are two separate people who just happen to share a body.  This is fact.  The gypsies clearly know this, too, given the spell.  They want to punish Angelus for killing their princess.  Okay, sounds good.  They trap him in Angel's body, unable to do anything but watch.  They basically stuck him in a human prison.  I'm on board so far.

Okay, so giving Angel all of Angelus' memories is a shitty thing to do to Angel, who had nothing to do with the things that Angelus did, but, hey, these gypsies are vengeful and they don't care about a little collateral damage.  And, hey, lucky for them, Angel decides he wants to do some good in the world, maybe in part to offset the bad that Angelus did.  So now not only is Angelus trapped, he has to watch as Angel does good deeds.  It's the perfect punishment for Angelus; he'll be tormented non-stop, particularly when Angel falls in love with a Slayer!

I am on board the gypsy curse train!  Aside from pissing all over Angel, this punishment they've created for Angelus seems like a winner.  You know what would be the ultimate torture for Angelus?  If Angel were happy!  That would be brutal.  Oh, it would be even worse if that happiness was because of the Slayer!  Just imagine how nuts Angelus must be going inside Angel.  It would kill him!

So, clearly, when this happens, he should be set free.


Angel having a moment of perfect happiness is the ultimate torture for Angelus, yet for some reason the curse sets him free when this happens. 

It makes no sense, no sense at all.

But, not unlike a lot of concepts on this show, they clearly made it up on the fly, and as the show progressed they had to make due.

Speaking of concepts that changed on the fly, I can't talk about season two without mentioning Spike and Drusilla.  It's hard to believe that they were originally only supposed to appear in a single episode, let alone that they were actually supposed to be from the South of America, not British.  That would suggest to me that they weren't supposed to have a connection to Angel in the beginning, either.  Sure, they botch a later storyline by having Spike call Angel his sire (when it's later revealed to be Dru), but see above: making things up on the fly.

Why a fence?

Why a fence?

For all the nonsense that surrounds Spike and Dru (Dru can get drama student obnoxious at points, and Spike is in a wheel chair how?), their connection to Angel pays big dividends.  They serve to flesh out who Angelus was, which is useful, given we only see him in the present and we really need to know what he was like for 200 years.

Sadly, Spike becomes problematic in later seasons, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

In the end, season two is a bridge season for Buffy, a bridge that leads to the show realizing its true potential and becoming something special.

Rewatching Buffy: Season One

In honor of Buffy's 20th anniversary, I'm posting the reviews I did of each season after the last time I binged the entire series, which was four years ago.

Do I need to give a spoiler warning for a show this old?  I suppose this is it.

Anyway, I've started watching Buffy again from the beginning.  I don't know why.  It's the summertime and I'm feeling nostalgic, what do you want from me?

I've been randomly updating my Facebook page with comments about certain episodes because some of them just need public commenting.  Fortunately for me, most of my friends are also big fans of the show, so my comments are not falling on deaf ears.

A little background: I didn't discover Buffy until half way through season 3.  The first episode I ever watched "live" was "The Wish."  I have some dim recollection of seeing a repeat of "The Pack," but Buffy wasn't required viewing for me until "The Wish."

After that, I went to the local video store and discovered the 3 tapes that had been released with earlier episodes.  The tapes contained 2 episodes each, so half of season one.  Thankfully, the WB was good about showing reruns during the summer, so I was able to fill in the blanks the summer after season three (at that point, I was taping every episode).

Looking back, it's kind of surprising that those 3 VHS tapes didn't kill any interest I had in the show.  While they're made up of arguably the better half of the first season (although, being a big Xander fan, I would have preferred "The Pack" over "Angel," but it's easy to see why it was included), they're still of questionable quality.  As I said upon re-watching them, there's a certain Sci-Fi original movie quality to them and the acting is just not particularly good.

There are, in fact, two actors who stand out from the rest of the cast from the very start.  One is fairly obvious -- Anthony Stewart Head was always going to overshadow the teenagers, at least to begin with.  He is Giles from the very first moment he comes on screen.  While the rest of the actors are still struggling to get past that kind of high school drama club performance, Head does exactly what you'd expected a seasoned professional to do.  The supernatural aspect of the show was always going to be harder to sell than the teen aspect and having ASH as the focal point was essential.

Surprisingly enough, the other actor who stands out is Charisma Carpenter.  She is Cordelia.  Everything she says sounds natural, as opposed to the other actors who sound like they're acting.  Now, part of that is the fact that the rest of the characters have yet to be fleshed out at all, so the actors are clearly struggling to figure out who they are.  That's just not a problem for Carpenter or Cordelia.

As much as I enjoyed the Xander-centric "The Pack," it's still not a great episode.  In fact, the vast majority of season one can be considered average, if that.  The Buffy/Angel pairing is as hamfisted as ever, the characters are more archetypes than characters, and the monsters aren't particularly scary.

The first glimpse of what the show can be comes with the 9th episode, "The Puppet Show."  The addition of Principal Snyder to the show is welcome one, giving the core cast a day in and day out foil that has (we assume) nothing to do with the supernatural.  Snyder grounds the show.

The characters have bonded by this point, too.  There's a clear dynamic among Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles, and the scenes are becoming more and more natural.

The upside to "The Puppet Show" is that we get a nice plot twist on top of some of the best character work we've seen from the show.  They fall into a wonderful dynamic in this episode where Willow does research on the computer, Giles hits the books, Buffy investigates the crime scene, and Xander interviews other students.  It plays wonderfully to their strengths.  This episode almost makes up for episodes like "I, Robot...You, Jane" and "Out of Mind, Sight."  Almost.

The show is dragged down by the ongoing crush that Xander has on Buffy.  It's always painful and they drag it on much, much longer than necessary (although one episode was probably too long).  I appreciate that Buffy is the new girl and she's a Slayer and all that, but the events of "The Pack" would have been a perfect way for Xander to move on.

Honestly, I'm surprised that Buffy had the following it did after the first season.  But I suppose teen shows were still a thing back then, and adding a supernatural element to it made it different.  The fact that most of the cast were easy on the eyes probably helped, too.

A Blog Post About Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I wrote this 8 years ago. Still on point.

I came a little late to the Buffy party. In fact, the first original airing of an episode that I watched was on December 8th, 1998 -- and before you think I'm a complete freak, I got that date from IMDB. I do remember the episode, though: "The Wish." It would be an odd episode for me to delve into the show, as it a) took place in an alternate reality and b) was written by a writer whose eventual ascension to show runner would mark a bleak period in Buffy's history.

But anyway...

I was in grad school in 1998. The band I was in at the time had made an ill fated attempt at a tour over our winter break and, once that was over, I was pretty much left with nothing to do. It should also be noted that I was in Ohio at this point, so wrap your brain around the idea of having nothing to do in December in Ohio. The Shining could have taken place there.

The fledgling WB network was showing a bunch of repeats of Buffy during this time, but they were pretty scattered. The local video store, however, had some videos that Fox Studios had released, featuring two episodes each of the first season of Buffy. I think I rented one of them before I went out and bought all three (which have since been replaced by DVDs). By the end of Ohio University's winter break, I was hooked. Actually, I was pretty obsessed.

Why was I obsessed? What was it about this show that sucked me in? At the beginning, I honestly didn't know. I think it had to do with the fact that I was pretty lonely, and the show featured a group of friends, almost all of whom seemed like people I would like to hang out with. I could relate to Xander, the guy who always felt like he didn't really belong, even in that group, as he was the only one with no abilities. It probably helped that my first season of the show also happened to be the first season with Faith, but I'll save my Eliza Dushku digression for another time.

Later, I think the quality of the writing really got to me. While eventually I would begin to notice the patterns that the show would fall into, during those first few years it seemed like they were willing to try anything. There was a certain bravery to the storytelling that I didn't see in other shows. And, hell, I'm a sucker for the supernatural. So, yeah, it's easy to see why I became a bit neurotic about the show.

Sadly, for as much mocking as I took from my friends, they all ended up becoming enablers. Over the course of the next year and a half of grad school, "Buffy Nights" at the house I was living at grew larger and larger. For a misanthrope like myself, it offered me the added bonus of being able to socialize without having to go anywhere. Whereas I was once the guy who kept talking about his band all the time, I soon became the Buffy guy (who only stopped talking about his band because it broke up). And, of course, I became the Angel guy, too.

When I left Ohio, I took my Buffy obsession with me. The only friends I made in Atlanta that I didn't import in from Ohio were others who loved Buffy. Suddenly, a new Buffy night was born, this time in the South. At one point I even went so far as to leave my own apartment to watch the show, although it was just to walk across a parking lot to another apartment. I was also pretty active online and found myself wasting hours and hours of time reviewing, discussing, and debating the in's and out's of every episode.

Next, I moved to Los Angeles, and, as is befitting of Los Angeles, I started watching the final season of Buffy (and the penultimate season of Angel) by myself. The internet became my sole source of interaction when it came to Buffy. The upside, though, was that I was now living in the city where the show was made. I actually got to meet Joss Whedon, Amber Benson, and Michelle Trachtenberg at a signing for the Buffy musical CD. That wasn't something that would have happened in Ohio.

By this point, of course, the show was releasing its earlier seasons on DVD, so I was now stocking up on those. I also bought an Xbox specifically because it was the only system that had the Buffy video game. These are all things that would come in useful when I hosted my very last Buffy night, during the finale.

But Kyle, you're saying, you've said that you watched Buffy all alone in Los Angeles? Well, I did, except for the finale, when three people I had never met before in my entire life flew all the way to Los Angeles to watch Buffy with me. Could there be better icing on the cake of this story? I don't think so.

They were people I'd known for a while online. One of the bonuses of living in Los Angeles is that people are willing to come visit you for the most minor of reasons, because you actually live in an interesting city. So while these three, fine people were coming to watch the end of an era with me, there were some added bonuses. I don't know that they would have flown out to watch the finale with me if I were still living in Ohio.

Two years later, with my Buffy library fully stocked, I began the process of indoctrinating my then girlfriend Nicole. Now, Nicole has always been a nerd, so it wasn't that hard to get her started. It got a bit more difficult when Angel got his own series, because then she had to go back and forth between the two, and suddenly her commitment to catching up doubled. But she was a trooper, and while I doubt she'd consider the show to be her favorite, she did enjoy it. It was also really cool for me to go back and watch it all with someone who'd never seen it before.

One of these days, when I have a job that pays more, I'll finally give in and buy the complete series box set. I think, perhaps, I should have a party then, as it would make a fitting bookend.

Maybe I'll invite Nicholas Brendon. I did rent him an apartment once.

Update: No, really, I did rent him an apartment. He was totally nice. And I bought and eventually sold that box set (and the one for Angel) when I switched from DVD to digital. I hope whoever bought it from the used bin at Amoeba in Hollywood enjoys it.

Also, I wrote two essays for on Buffy, so you should check those out.

Holding Back Tears During Disney on Ice

It was cold and windy and wet as we power walked through the parking lot and exterior stairs of the Oracle arena in Oakland. We hadn't planned for weather that bad, so my son didn't have his hat on, which is why we were power walking. He started to shiver before we got into the building.

He kept shivering even after we got inside and it slowly became clear that he wasn't just shivering because it was cold, but because he was overwhelmed. There were a lot of people at Oracle for Disney on Ice and we were hustling past them to get to our seats in time.

Even when he stopped shivering, he still looked overwhelmed. He stared off into the distance, trying to take in the ice rink, the rows and rows of people, the colorful lights. Even the arrival of his aunt and uncle, whom he adores, didn't break the spell.

We sat down as the show started, my son on his mom's lap. He still had that hundred yard stare.

A bunch of athletic, good looking twentysomethings came onto the ice and did a bit about getting exercise and staying hydrated and eating right which was a little tone deaf given that the concession stands sold nothing but hot dogs, popcorn, and nachos.

Finally, the ice skating models declared that they needed some assistance with their dance routine and they called out the big guns: Mouses Mickey and Minnie.

This would be the first time during the show that I got choked up.

I had been watching my son the entire time and when Mickey and Minnie came out onto the ice, his face lit up. He smiled. The apprehension and daze that had overwhelmed him since we left the car was gone. Mickey Mouse was here. Everything was okay.

I have to think most parents would get choked up by that.

There were other moments, like when the toys from Toy Story came out, or when the cars from Cars came out. But the biggest came towards the end, during the Frozen section of the show.

The songs in Frozen have always gotten to me, so it wasn't a big surprise that I would be fighting back tears. But this performance took it to another level.

There were an awful lot of kids at this show and most of them loved Frozen.

So when we got to the big hit, to "Let It Go," they all sang along.

That was almost too much for me.

Did Disney know what they were doing when they created Frozen? Were they aware that they weren't just creating something emotional, but something empowering?

After the show I started thinking about the thousands of fathers of girls out there who had to have been thrown for a loop by Frozen. The sheer tenacity of "Let It Go" requires anyone who sings it to own it. What's the stereotypical father to do? Embrace girl power? *gasp!*

I spend most of my time feeling horrible about the way children are being raised in this world. It was nice, for a brief moment, to feel like perhaps we, as human beings, are doing something right.

Daycare is killing me.

My son turns 3 today, so I decided to repost a few choice blogs from the first year after he was born.

He smells different.

At the end of the day, Appleseed smells like the daycare.  It's similar to how an airplane or a hotel room smells, that attempt to make something sanitized that will never ever be sanitized.  I smell it when I kiss his head.  He doesn't smell like us.

I don't think Nicole has noticed because I've done a good job of re-scenting him before she gets home.  I sit on the couch with him and give him Sophie the Giraffe, which he promptly sticks in his mouth and gums like crazy.  He slobbers everywhere.  I kiss his cheeks, his head, the spot where his neck and his head connect which makes him squeal with happiness.

The squeal is muted.  There's less energy to it.  His smiles don't come as quickly.  His giggles are harder to come by.  And he smells different.

There's a logical explanation for it.  Besides the sensory overload, Appleseed doesn't sleep at daycare, not like he should.  They can rock him to sleep, but he wakes up when they try to put him in the crib.  So when I pick him up, he's tired, too tired to humor his father.  After I've gotten my fill of drowning him with affection, I decide to rock him to sleep.  It doesn't take long.

The best way to make sure Appleseed will not just sleep, but sleep for a long period of time, is to sleep with him.  So I take him into our bedroom, lie him on the bed, crawl in next to him, and tip him over on to his side.  He likes to sleep on his side, he just can't maintain it on his own.  We'll spend the next two hours or so like this.

It's during this time that the smell fades.  Cuddled up in bed, cuddled up next to daddy, he begins to smell like us again.

After the long nap, he starts to perk up.  His energy returns.  And mommy comes home.  The smiles come fast and furious.  The giggles and squeals are back.  Appleseed has returned.

I know that he's fine at daycare but that doesn't mean I like it.  That doesn't mean I don't feel like simultaneously throwing up and crying when I drop him off, and that's after I make it out the door.  Up until

that point, I feel like taking him back home and skipping work.

He's in the infant room at his daycare, and the teacher to student ratio maxes out at 4-1, although it's probably more reasonable to say 3-1, as one of them is almost always asleep.  But between diapers, bottles, and tantrums, how much attention can those three really get?

When I drop Appleseed off in the morning, I put him in a boppy and I find him a couple of toys.  That's how I leave him and it has, so far, been how I've found him when I come back.  It's a different boppy and they are different toys, but that's where he is, because he's a relaxed baby who can hang out like that.

And that's perfectly fine.  I know he screams his head off when they change him or when they put him in a crib.  I know he's happier on the boppy and he's certainly more quiet.

When I show up, he smiles, he squeals, and he kicks his arms and legs around, so I know he's happy to see me.  I know he's still him.  I know he's fine.

But I want him to be more than that.

Staying at home with Appleseed was exhausting, and I only had to do it three days a week.  It took so much energy to stay engaged with him and I'll admit that I took a fair number of breaks.  When four o'clock rolled around, it was time to watch a little bit of baseball.  He'd zone out on it for a few minutes, but then get bored.  But those few minutes were nice.

But I did my best, as I know Nicole did.  She felt even more pressure than me, I think, to interact with Appleseed every minute he was awake.  A lot of that is because of how much stuff she reads on the internet.

Our son his happy and energetic to the point where I'm a bit confused by it.  I don't think we do anything special.  We just love the heck out of him to an obnoxious degree.  And, apparently, he responds to that.

Going to daycare means he's no longer getting that as much as he used to, and that makes me sad.

It's hard for me to think about Appleseed when he's at daycare because it breaks my heart.  I sometimes have to force myself not to think about him because it's honestly too much.  And I resent the fact that I have to stop myself from thinking about my son.

For the first three weeks of daycare, Appleseed will only be there 3 days a week.  After that, he'll be full time, Monday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM, although as the guy who picks him up, I can guarantee you he'll never stay that late.  I'll be skipping out of work early a lot more often.

I can't imagine what it will be like when he's there every weekday.  It seems unbearable.

So the wheels are turning.  Maybe we can handle three days a week and maybe that's all we need to handle.  I just need to find a way to only work three days during the week.

Because I don't want him to be "fine."  I don't want him to get the bare minimum of attention.  I want him to have all the things he's had for the last 5 months.

He deserves all that and more.

Appleseed: And it begins

My son turns 3 today, so I decided to repost a few blogs from right after he was born.

Roughly 19 hours after my son was born, I began to freak the fuck out.

It was while I was walking, for the third time that day, from our room in the recovery ward to the hospital cafeteria.

This was the first time I actually had some idea where I was going and the first time I managed to not get lost either on the way there or on the way back.

I was tired.

I was beyond tired.

If I was running on more than 4 hours of cumulative sleep over the last two nights, I’d be shocked. I wanted to go to bed, but my ability to do so was being controlled by this new little person in my life.

And I began to think about how all the time in my life was going to be sucked away.

Truth be told, the fact that our son is going to absorb the vast majority of my time isn’t really that big of a problem. I waste a lot of time. Hell, just my wasted time will cover a big chunk of his needs.

And while the inevitable cutting down on the things I want to do is upsetting, what was I really doing with that time, anyway? I don’t really do anything that can compare with raising my son.

No, what terrified me was the fact that I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into.

My old life –and that’s what it is, a whole other life prior to this one –was comfortable.

I knew it pretty well.

It wasn’t always inspiring and It wasn't always enjoyable, but it was the devil I knew.

I don’t know this new life and I don’t know how any of the pieces of the old one that I want to keep will fit into it.

Even simple things like phrases Nicole and I used during our old life make me feel panicked.

It’s as if those phrases no longer belong here.

The Reckoning came and our little jokes about the silly little things in our life before we became parents no longer matter.

It’s a strange reminder of what we’ve lost, even though we’ve gained so much more.

I don’t know how I’m going to sleep.

I’m terrified something will happen to my son if one of us isn’t awake with him at all times.

And then I wonder how that would even be possible and I wonder if I will ever not feel guilty about wanting to go to bed.

I wonder why we decided to do this.

Was it hubris?

Did we just want so badly to leave our mark on this world? Were we selfish do bring him into this world?

Why does anyone have kids?

But then I think about how great he is and the fact that he wouldn’t exist if we hadn’t done this.

I spiraled again in the 20th hour.

I was overwhelmed.

I saw my amazing wife forming this wonderful bond with our son the way that only a mother can and I saw a peacefulness in her, a sense of knowing.

She knew, without question, that this is what we’re meant to be doing.

I wish I had that confidence. It is not, I’ll admit, a new phenomenon.

I have never felt confident in most things I do.

Second guessing this new life was inevitable.

So where does this leave me as I sit here in our hospital room, watching the second hand on the big clock on the wall as we tick closer and closer to the completion of my son’s first 24 hours on this earth?

It leaves me, as usual, at odds with my own emotions.

Part of the difficulty has come from our environment. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change the time we have had in this recovery ward for all the money in the world. We have learned so much from these amazing nurses I can’t even do it justice explaining it.

But we’re here just as much for Nicole as we are for our son because she’s recovering from a traumatic ordeal.

This means that Nicole is constantly busy, which is just unbelievable.

She’s doing so much at once.

And our son is just here to feed and sleep and go to the bathroom.

Ultimately, this means I’m sitting around waiting to be of use, which is in some ways worse than being busy.

I only ever notice how tired I am when I don’t have anything to do.

When I’m in the thick of it, adrenaline takes over.

But I’m also a paranoid first time parent, so I have trouble sleeping if I have any worries about our son.

Even if Nicole is nursing and has no need for me to be awake, I won’t be able to sleep, just in case.

If we were home, that much would be easier.

I (and Nicole, for that matter) could go to another room to sleep and at least force us into an out of sight, out of mind type scenario

The other upside of being at home is that there will always be stuff to do.

There will be laundry to wash.

There will be dishes to wash.

There will be a whole house to take care of – the garbage alone will keep me busy.

The sleep deprivation will inevitably be easier to deal with if I’m busy the whole time.

There’s also the simple fact that being here at the hospital underscores the fact that Nicole is dealing with so much – a lot of which I can’t help her with.

The fact that Nicole is still dealing with what happened to her is hard for me because I want her to be okay.

I may be staying awake because I’m worried about our son, but I’m also staying awake for Nicole.

Going home will, even if it’s not true, make me feel like she’s doing better.

There’s also a strange sense of urgency being here.

Because we have so much support, I feel like I have to figure everything out before we leave because we won’t have a call button to hit when we get into jams.

But we’re never going to know everything we need to know.

I’d also really like to sleep in my own bed again, even if it’s only for an hour or two at a time.

It’s now Monday morning. We’ve been at this hospital for 86 hours.

We’ll probably leave in a little bit.

Nicole had a headache which has turned into a full blown migraine, so she’s sleeping.

Appleseed is sleeping in the mobile changing table/bassonette thing they have here.

He’s just absolutely amazing.

I’m looking forward to going home.

I’m looking forward to trying to relieve some of my guilt when we see our cats.

They’ve been like children to us for so long and we’ve suddenly replaced them.

Did I mention that Appleseed is amazing?

I don't think I can say that enough.

But I'm sure I'll try.

I'm a great dad.

But it's relative.

Over the 34 months that I've been a father, one thing has become clear to me: the bar for fatherhood is very, very low.

I don't consider anything I do as a dad to be more than what any other father should do, but over and over again I have people tell me that what I'm doing is unusual. I don't think the enthusiasm with which I greet every other kid in my son's school to be out of the ordinary. I think it's something I do because these are kids he spends his day with and I want to know all of their names so that when he talks about them, I can talk back.

I don't think it's strange that I make his lunches and his dinners or that I get up in the middle of the night to comfort him when he has a bad dream. I don't think it's unusual that I spent a solid two months bathing with him because he refused to take a bath otherwise. He's my son. I would do anything for him.

I don't know why gender roles still exist when it comes to parenting and I don't know why the average father has a time limit on how much time they can spend with their kid(s).  I'm not the idiot TV dad who is clueless when it comes to raising children. I'm aghast that such a character exists on TV, let alone in real life. But he does.

I was Facebook friends with a woman I know from my home town, although I haven't actually seen her in probably twenty-five years. She still lives in my hometown, though, and occasionally sees my parents. One day, she saw them and mentioned what an incredibly involved father I am. Her basis for this was all of my posts about my son, about being a parent.

But what else would I post about? What could possibly be going on in my life that is more important than raising my son?

The other night Nicole noticed that I went into our son's room to check on him before going to bed. She asked me if I always did that. I do. Every single night, I step into his room and just listen to him breathe.

Stepping into his room is magic. I'm suddenly free from everything but my son. There's a purity of purpose, a clarity of mind that I don't really get anywhere else in my life. I love my son, I would do anything for him, and I will do everything I can to raise him the best that I can. None of that is questionable. It's absolute.

A friend recently shared this column from Time magazine about the added mental burden that women take on as the person who keeps the ship afloat, in this case the ship being the household.

Columns like that are frustrating for me because that's not the way it is in our house. We split our work. Nicole keeps tabs on the toilet paper (and all other paper products that we order in bulk), I do the grocery shopping. She handles more big picture things while I'm much more day to day. That's not to say those roles don't switch from time to time, but they always work well together.

We've fallen into these roles because our jobs and, to a certain extent, our personalities require them. We are each doing what we are most capable of doing and neither of us takes on more than the other. We are a team.

And we're an anomaly.

This isn't to say that we're perfect or that our system doesn't have flaws or that there aren't times when each of us wants to curl up in a ball and hide under the blankets for a few days. But we try our best to make sure that the stress of raising a child is distributed equally.

I know other parents who do the same, but there are an awful lot who don't and that is hard for me wrap my brain around.

There are also plenty of dads out there who think they're doing just as much as mom, but just aren't -- and just as many moms who are willing to put up with that.

It makes sense, I suppose: my mom did everything. My dad was responsible for all the things that the Y chromosome was "supposed" to take care of, like teaching me sports or punishing me. That's what men did.

It wouldn't be hard to see how kids raised in that environment would grow up believing certain things, and I would imagine a lot of kids from my generation had similar upbringings.

But isn't the goal to learn from the prior generation, to improve?

The problem is that we live in a society that constantly attempts to normalize that which shouldn't be considered normal. Be it sexism, racism, homophobia, etc., we exist in a time when a lot of preconceived notions are being upended as wrong headed and hurtful, but they are so ingrained into our being that we are trying to hold on.

I fully admit that change is hard and that I have to reconsider my perspective on a regular basis. But, man, I can't even comprehend not playing an active role in my son's life. I can't imagine leaving the bulk of the work of parenting to my wife, not just because of how stressful that would be for her, but because of how much I would miss out on.

We're a nation that prides ourselves on our work ethic, and yet we seem to draw the line at acknowledging that the most important work we can do is to raise our children.

Mothers, at least, seem to have a sorority that values giving your all at being a parent (to the point where it's a problem, really, but I digress). The time and effort you put into raising your kids doesn't hold the same weight among fathers. And that doesn't seem to be changing the way that I figured it would.

So, yes, I can say I'm a great dad, but given the standards, that's not saying much.*


*Although, to be honest, even if the standards were higher, I think I'd still be considered a great dad.

What's Important 9: Time is a flat circle

I can remember hearing from people who were older than me that time was the enemy.

That was true for me as a kid, true for all children, as all we want is to be older, and time seemed to move so slowly.

In my 20s, time moved as it should, not too fast, not too slow. It was perfect, so much so that I gave it little thought, something I regret now.

In my 30s I began to notice time fluctuate, sometimes too fast, sometimes too slow, seldom in my favor.

I'm a very nostalgic person, although I think that's lessened over the years, perhaps because I have been forced to live in the present, more so than I ever have before. I suppose this is what happens when you're forced to stop living for only yourself.

And time really has become the enemy.

I would imagine most parents think their child is growing up too fast, that they're not taking it all in as much as they should or could. But it's more than that. There are so many things that I need to do that the things I want to do tend to seem like pipe dreams. And that's fine, this is what being a parent is all about. But man, it seems like the hours squeeze in on me; dishes multiply, it takes longer to get shoes on, there's always another doctor's appointment.

But we're all adults here so we manage. Feeling like I have too much to do and not enough time is a product of the times we live in. The truly frustrating thing about time is how its drained the joy out of those precious moments I have to do the things I want to do.

Everything becomes a guilty pleasure when you feel guilty about everything.

My precious moments of free time have actually become less precious because they've become less pure. The enjoyment of free time, of sitting down to read a book or watch TV, has become infected.

But maybe I only have so much joy. I already get so much of it from my son, more than I ever could have imagined possible, that maybe some kind of price had to be paid. It's not even close, of course; it's not like losing the unadulterated joy of doing nothing remotely compares with the amount of joy I get from my son. But maybe it's not the size of the sacrifice that matters, just that it exists.




I'm not going to go into a diatribe about the difficulty of writing really good endings.  I will say that perhaps the first great ending of a story I ever really noticed was Ann Beattie's "The Burning House."  Go track it down, if you've never read it.

My current obsession with endings has manifested itself in two ways: a bizarre new fascination with things that have finished and a desire to use the few good endings I've ever written for new stories.

The most recent example of the former is all the time I've spent re-watching the recently ended Gossip Girl television show (I will spare you from going into further details on that).  But it started before that.  I've been going through this period of reading complete comic book story arcs, things as ridiculous as the Spider-man Clone Saga and Batman: Knightfall.  I really the enjoy the idea of being able to read a complete work and form an opinion based upon the whole.  I also like to think about the important moments where the story went wrong, or the moments where it went very right, and what it all meant by the end.

To my mind, I've probably written less than half a dozen good endings.  I think the vast majority of them are okay.  I think the entire final chapter of "I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At" is some of the best writing I've ever produced.  I like the end of "Unrequited," but it's been so long since I read it, I'm not sure if the writing still holds up.  The ending of "Gateway Drug" is probably too cute for its own good and the ending of "Weight," in hindsight, is ordinary.

I currently have two endings that I think are right up there with the best work I've ever done.  I actually got complimented on one of them, when it was attached to a short story that really wasn't good enough to have such a solid ending.  I've mostly left it alone over the years, instead trying to salvage the other one, which is attached to a short story that at least has the potential to be worthy of its ending.

I've come to realize that the latter one might actually work on its own as a short short.  I've never really written a short short before, so I find this pretty exciting, and isn't that what we want from our writing?  It also alleviates the pressure of having to improve the story that comes before it so that it's even remotely close to the quality of the ending.

The former one is the less problematic of the two, if only because it's a fairly universal ending.  It's a romantic ending, about a man realizing that the woman he's been sleeping with is actually more than that.  Basically, it lent itself to a story about girls and denial and that kind of thing, which is right in my wheelhouse.

Here's the weird thing: I attached the ending to a new short story that takes place during the same time in which I wrote the aforementioned ending.  Okay, I know that sounds like post-modernism run amok, but, trust me, it makes sense.  But I wrote this story now, and it's basically a story of "me" being with some girl who isn't my wife (although she's not technically anyone at all, since it's a complete work of fiction).  That's a little weird.  I don't think I've ever given her anything to read before that involved a love interest that wasn't, on some level, her.

It's also bizarre because I'm going back to a certain time of my life and writing about it from the future, when the ending I'm building this story around was written at that time.  The question now is whether my obvious hindsight will be obvious to the reader.

Great endings are hard to come by, so I have to take advantage of them when they come along.

What's Important 8: Miles Iz Ded

Note: A few years ago I wrote a series of pieces on "What's Important." They got a decent amount of traffic on my old blog, so I've decided to re-run them on my new site.

I'm a good writer.

I say that in part because I know that the vast majority of the people on this earth have a hard time stringing together enough words to make a complete sentence, let alone multiple sentences to make a paragraph.  Being able to write adequately is a lost art.

I also say that in part because these days anyone obsessed with the sexual proclivities of the Star Trek: the Next Generation crew can publish some slash fiction and call themselves a writer.  And while I have no problem at all with living out your sexual fantasies on the written page, I feel pretty confident in saying that my work is better.

I've had enough unbiased (and plenty of biased) people tell me I can write.  Push comes to shove, I'm willing to claim that I'm a good writer.  But being good really isn't enough.

I can be a great writer.  I've seen it.

Deep down inside of me there is a great writer and he really, really doesn't want to come out.  I suppose he might actually be trapped, which is a whole other thing to consider, because in one metaphor he is hiding and in another he's a prisoner.  I think it's probably a bit of each.

Sitting down to write for me is hard because I am easily distracted, easily frustrated, and my confidence is mercurial.  None of those things are true once I have alcohol in my system.

Once I've had some whiskey, the world around me dulls.  I become more relaxed, more willing to follow wherever the writing takes me.  I am supremely confident.

The locks release, the doors open, and out comes the great writer.

The hardest part of this process (well, I'll get to the others in a minute) is that I'm dealing with a pretty small window.  He doesn't come out until I've had a certain amount to drink, but inspired tipsy guy soon leads to unmotivated drunk guy, and then all is lost.

I can't go on like this, obviously.

It's funny, because given the frequency with which I drink, it would be easy to suggest that I have a problem

.  But here's the strange thing: these days, I basically only drink when I write.  Yes, I still often need alcohol to be social, but I'm finding that more and more lately I have no problems interacting with other humans completely stone cold sober.  Granted, there are a lot of factors at play there (like how much interaction I've had recently and who the people are), but alcohol is no longer essential for me to be social.

It still is for my writing.

That's probably a little hyperbolic.  I'm writing this totally sober, although I'll admit that I have a glass of Buffalo Trace bourbon sitting on the desk.  I do all of my editing stone cold sober.  I wrote most of "Master of the House" without a drop to drink (that's probably hyperbole, too), at least the initial draft.  Some stories are easier than others.  But "Pray" is soaked in whiskey.  So is "Unrequited."

Here's the thing: great writers write every day, and great writers don't need anything other than themselves to be great writers.  They just sit down and do it.  That's the real lesson here: that great writer within me that needs alcohol to come out might be crazy talented, but he's not very diligent, and I need that just as much as I need him.

Besides, once Nicole and I have kids, I don't know how I'll be able to keep this up.

Writing sober: the next frontier.

Baby steps.

Miles Iz Ded by the Afghan Whigs

What's Important 7: Validation

Note: A few years ago I wrote a series of pieces on "What's Important." They got a decent amount of traffic on my old blog, so I've decided to re-run them on my new site.

About 13 years ago, I wrote a song that would eventually be called "Not So Much a System as a Theory," which was something that actually came out of my mouth one day.  Anyway, the crux of that song got played by a couple of different groups of people, and to this day I couldn't even really tell you how it's supposed to go, just how it could.

All that really mattered with "System/Theory" was the riff at the end and, I think, the vocals that went along with it (ideally sung by someone who can, you know, sing).

A good ten years after I wrote that ending, I realized that I'd stolen some lyrics from an obscure Jawbox song.  The bit in question was from a song called "The Big Shave" and went "I don't want to/be the one who/reassures you."

Anyway, this is actually a round about way of getting to the line in "System/Theory" that follows it (yet with the same melody, more or less): "I don't want to/be your/be your/validation."

As I have been struggling with my quest for, well, I guess you would say acceptance of life, or, perhaps more accurately, the ability to be happy with what I have, I keep tripping up on my writing.  There is no other aspect of my life in which I feel the need to prove to others that I'm successful.  It's nice if people find out that I'm a loving husband, a wonderful grandson, a great son, a pretty good brother, and a reasonable friend, but it doesn't keep me up at night.  While there is fault to be found with all of those things, I've made peace with them and accepted that it's all a part of who I am.

It doesn't matter to me if people know how responsible I am, or how personally I take almost everything I do.  At this point in my life, I don't even really care if anyone finds me attractive or not, just as long as Nicole does.

I am probably more confident about myself than I have been at any other point in my 37 years, save perhaps a single summer in 2004.

And I still crave recognition for my writing.

I'm going to do something I try not to do in this blog, but I don't think I have much of a choice, given what I'm writing about: I'm going to talk about my family.

Because here's the thing: I want a great writer to tell me I'm great.  I want to sell a ton of books.  I want to

be a full time writer.  I want to do these things to prove that my decision to write wasn't just some weird, flight of fancy.  I want to show that this thing that I do that was wholly my creation and my creation alone is valid.

It's not that my parents ever actively discouraged me from writing (although there were a few moments).  It's just not something they really understood.  Honestly, they still don't.  And that's fine.  I can't imagine that I'm going to understand everything that my theoretical child values.

But I'm a Midwestern kid from a middle class family and importance is placed on things that don't include writing.  Importance is placed on crossing the T's and dotting the I's.  You go to high school to go to college to get a job to meet someone to get married to start a family.  You might take a winding road to get there, but those are the main stops.

And there's nothing wrong with any of that.  For as hard as it's been for me to adjust to my new, suburban lifestyle, I've started to accept it, and realized that there's nothing wrong with it.  There's nothing wrong with a house in a cul-de-sac in a good school district.  There could be worse paths for me to be placed on.

But writing was never a road that was laid out for me.  Writing was a road I created because some stupid part of my brain said that I needed it.  Writing is my thing.  And for some reason, I want to prove that it's worthwhile.

The dichotomy at work there is interesting.  If I've learned anything since I was a little kid, it's that writing is a singular pleasure that can only be experienced by the writer.  It's not that other people can't enjoy what someone writes, but they will never get the thrill out of it that the writer does.  On that level, writing is something you can only ever do for yourself, because only you can fully appreciate it.  And yet I still want people to read my work, and I want them to enjoy it and eagerly anticipate more.

I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing.  I think being aware of a theoretical audience has ultimately made me a better writer.  I could churn out pages and pages of junk and never bother to edit it if I was only thinking of myself.  After all, why re-write those pages if they're just for your own enjoyment?  If it's just for fun, it really makes no difference.  But if it's to express something, then someone else eventually has to read it, unless you're in desperate need to express something to yourself (which is another issue entirely).

I've started to get better about these things.  I still day dream about a book deal, about giving notice at my job because I can afford to write full time.  I've written entire interviews in my head with Poets and Writers.

I think the weight of the life my parents always wanted me to have has lessened; it no longer crushes the life I chose for myself.  There's a balance starting to form, one which hopefully allows me to be content with the process of writing.

Now I just need to figure out how to do that without alcohol.

 Not the song I ripped off, but Jawbox's cover of Tori Amos' "Cornflake Girl"

What's Important 6: "Writer"

Note: A few years ago I wrote a series of pieces on "What's Important." They got a decent amount of traffic on my old blog, so I've decided to re-run them on my new site.

It's 9:03 on a Tuesday night and I'm sitting in front of my computer, much like I do most of the nights of the week.  My wife is in the living room watching television and it was all I could do to force myself away from her and into my office.  My desk is covered with papers, vaguely organized by story.  There are pens of every color all over the place.

This is about as true a picture of my existence as you're going to get, but chances are good I would never tell you that I'm a writer.

Every once in a while, I'm social.  It's almost always with Nicole next to me, and usually it's with her family.  But there have been occasions where I've been social with strangers, although still with Nicole by my side.

Inevitably, the strangers will ask me what I do.  And, inevitably, I will pause before I answer.  If she's quick enough, Nicole will interject, and tell the stranger that I'm a writer.  They will ask me what I write and I will become even more socially awkward than normal.

This is what has to tell me about writers:






Show IPA




















































































So I guess technically I'm a writer.

But I have a hard time making that claim.

I've written three books.  One of them has been published.  I've just started the process of getting the last one published.  The other one has been sitting in a drawer for a while.

I've had a few short stories published by fairly obscure literary journals.  I'm a finalist for the next issue of Best New Writing.  I've got an essay in Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion, published by Titan Books.  I've even got some various pop culture reviews floating around the internet.

I still have a hard time calling myself a writer.

My problem, as always, is that I consider the title "writer" as something you have to earn, and you earn it by being a good enough writer that you can make a living at doing that and nothing else.

There's a certain level of snobbery in that.  The way that I look at it, anyone can


themselves a writer.  Any person who puts a few words on a few pages can say that they're a writer, and that diminishes it for me.  It belittles something that I think is incredibly powerful.

Writing is not something I take lightly and it bothers me that those who do take it lightly can call themselves writers.

The reality, however, is that the aforementioned people are few and far between, certainly fewer than those of us who take writing seriously.

This is my first problem.  I believe that the person who sits at their desk for hours a day writing Star Trek fan fiction for their Star Trek web site doesn't get the same things out of writing that I do, so it must not mean as much, and is therefore not really writing.

I'm wrong about that.  I will admit that right now.  It was pretentious and more than a little bit cruel of me to believe such a thing.  I don't think I even realized I believed that until I really thought about it.  Perhaps that's the price I pay for going to grad school.

Anyone who writes gets something from the writing that they need, and who am I to say that what they get and what they need are any less than what I get and what I need?

If I can get past my arrogance on what a writer is on that level, then why can't I consider myself a writer?

There's something holding me back.  There's something that won't let me call myself a writer even though I know that's what I am, even though it's something that has defined me for as long as I can remember.

It is, as always, a matter of self-confidence...

This entry, and it's sequel (coming next Monday), are a part of a series of blog posts that just seem to keep going and going.  You can find them here:

What's Important 1: Twitter Tortures Me

What's Important 2: The Social Tank

What's Important 3: Happiness

What's Important 4: The Zen of Art

What's Important 5: You Can Get With This

What's Important 5: You Can Get With This...

Note: A few years ago I wrote a series of pieces on "What's Important." They got a decent amount of traffic on my old blog, so I've decided to re-run them on my new site.

...or you can get with that.  I think you'll get with this, for this is where it's at.

Many, many moons ago, at some indistinct time and immaterial place, I heard or read the phrase "you have to choose to be happy."  And I chose to believe it was a load of shit.

To me, the idea of choosing to be happy was simply living in denial.  It was also about giving up.  I didn't want to do either of those things, although I was, at that time, doing both.

I still don't like the idea of "choosing to be happy."  It's simplistic and, well, wrong.  The more accurate way of putting it is "question your assumptions."

Over the course of a few decades, I've gotten a few ideas into my head, a good many of which aren't particularly right.  But, you know, over the course of those few decades, they stuck.  As with anyone, I've found that I believed things about my life that weren't necessarily true.

Here's a mild example: A few days ago, Nicole and I went away for our anniversary.  We went to a resort in Sonoma.  We got massages at the spa.  While I was getting the massage, I thought "I'm bad at relaxing."  And then I stopped myself.  Because "I'm bad at relaxing," while it may or may not be true, is self-fulfilling.  If I believe it to be the case, then I'm making sure that it is.

Now, I'm not saying that believing that I'm good at relaxing will make that so, but at least I'm not boxing

myself into a corner.

And it works for everything.  "I'm a bad person."  "I'm stupid."  "I'm fragile."  "I'm bad for the people around me."  You can go on and on (note: those are just random examples; I've never, ever thought I was stupid. If anything, I probably have the opposite problem).

My big thing, lately, has been trying to face the preconceived notions of what my life would/should be like.  Don't get me wrong, living in the suburbs is still freaking me out, but just because it might be different than the life that I thought I'd be living, doesn't mean it has to be bad.  And, hell, if I'm being totally honest, I really didn't have much of an idea of what my life would be like at this point, anyway.

The problem is that this philosophy forces me to second guess my initial reactions to pretty much everything. I've spent most of my life second guessing every decision I've ever made (or could make), but it's not those decisions that are problematic, it's how I react to things.  Forcing yourself to take a beat before reacting to something is very, very hard and, really, at odds to how pretty much all of us are raised.

I know I sound like a New Age hippie; I accept that.  I suppose living in Northern California will do that to you.

What's Important 4: The Zen of Art

Note: A few years ago I wrote a series of pieces on "What's Important." They got a decent amount of traffic on my old blog, so I've decided to re-run them on my new site.

I envy LARPers.

For those that don't know, LARP stands for Live Action Role Playing.  In almost all incidents that I know of, the role playing involves Dungeons and Dragons style fantasy worlds.

Here, watch the trailer for Darkon to get a better idea:

There are a lot of people out there who probably mock the hell out of these people.  After all, they're waging fake war on each other over fakes lands using fake weapons.  But I think the people who make fun of them are missing the point.

For LARPers, this is enough.  The fantasy is real enough for them that it fills a void.  They embrace the experience for all its worth and it makes them happy.

I posted something a while back about writing and how it torments me and it's really hard and really fulfilling and how I'm constantly seeking something greater for my writing.  I found that the responses I got to the blog post fell within two camps: 1) I know your pain and 2) what the hell are you talking about, writing is sweet.

The latter group of people are very similar to LARPers; the process itself is enough.  They can fully submerge themselves and enjoy the creative release for what it is.  I think that is absolute genius.

The question, then, is what's the deal with the former group.  Why do I need to be published?  Why do I desire to write for a living?  Why is writing such a struggle?  Why does it make me nearly as miserable as it does happy?

I have just listed four questions that I have no real answer for.

I mean, obviously, my desire to write for a living stems from the fact that, as painful as it can be, writing is still the work that brings me the most joy.  It's also, I think, the thing that forces me to use the talents I have, which is not something I get in my every day world.

As pretentious as this may sound, I suppose there's a certain element of the tortured artist at work.  There's a more-substantial-than-I-want-to-admit part of me that desperately wants validation for what I'm doing which, in turn, is validation of me.  Sadly, these days that validation comes in the form of book sales or, at the very least, a book deal.  It comes when someone says you're good enough that you can make this your career.

That's what it comes down to, it seems: validation.  Those people in Darkon don't need it, at least not from the rest of us.  They probably know they'd never get it, anyway, but they don't really care.  What they have is enough.

That's what's eluded me all this time, that feeling that what I have is enough.  But I think I'm starting to get there.

And, as you may have noticed, this "What's Important" series seems to be part of this process.